September 25, 2020
Since 2002, Carol and Cory Bonney have run a bed-and-breakfast inn in Annapolis, the Inn at Horn Point, a business that has allowed them to earn a good income while working from home.
Then the coronavirus hit, and their guests, and their income, dried up.
They tried other ways of making money, such as catering to front-line workers and applying for state aid to businesses slammed by the pandemic. But nothing panned out.
Then, in April, the couple contacted SCORE, a national organization that offers free mentoring to small business entrepreneurs. They were assigned a mentor, who steered them to numerous sources of help, including, most notably, a $2,000 grant that allowed the Bonneys to buy the equipment and furniture needed to set up an outdoor, socially distanced breakfast dining site.
“It helped us weather the storm,” said Cory Bonney. “It’s going to be a bad year, but we’re not going to go broke.”
“Having our mentor in our corner is almost like having a guardian angel,” Carol Bonney added. “I really think that Bruce (Sanders, their mentor) has our back, and that’s critical these days.”
SCORE was founded in 1965 as the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Based in Herndon, Virginia., the organization relies on a network of volunteers, all with business experience, who dispense advice and other tips to men and women who want to start a business or who need help growing one. SCORE has some 300 chapters throughout the country and about 10,000 volunteers
According to its website, SCORE is the nation’s largest network of “volunteer expert business mentors,” and has helped more than 11 million business owners in its history.
In fiscal year 2019, SCORE helped start nearly 30,000 businesses, which created some 68,000 jobs, according to Ed Coleman, district director for SCORE’s Maryland/D.C. district.
In Maryland, he said, the organization helped start 673 new businesses that created 1,441 jobs.
With COVID-19 knocking businesses large and small for a loop, it’s no surprise that business at SCORE is booming.
“A lot of people are coming to us now saying they need to have a plan to reopen,” Coleman said. “We’ve had a big increase in people using our webinars, for example – they’re flocking to them.”
The organization offers a long, expanded list of free online roundtable discussions, webinars and a host of other material on its website, www.score.org. The site has a special section with COVID-19 related tips and advice.
Although it has a small staff of paid employees at its Virginia headquarters, SCORE relies heavily on volunteers, and is always looking for new volunteers.
“We welcome volunteers with open arms,” Coleman said. “We want people willing to give back.”
Volunteers can take on one of four roles:
- mentors, who offer confidential mentoring services, in-person or online;
- subject matter experts, who provide focused knowledge based on their professional skills;
- workshop presenters, who lead local workshops and seminars to help entrepreneurs; and,
- chapter support, which means sharing their skills in marketing, tech, fundraising and other areas of expertise.
Coleman is typical of SCORE’s volunteers. He retired six years ago from a 45-year career in retail and direct marketing. After taking a few months off, he went to work for SCORE.
Five-plus years into his new volunteer job, he still loves it.
“It’s very energizing,” said Coleman. Working with budding and struggling businessmen and women, he said, forces him to keep up with the latest wrinkles in the business world. “Our clients are very astute. They expect someone who is knowledgeable.”
Another local SCORE client, Connie Inukai, of North Potomac, is as enthusiastic about the organization as the Bonneys.
When she retired from teaching technical writing at the University of Maryland four years ago, Inukai planned to keep busy as an inventor.
Her first invention was a small, hand-held device that helps people with failing eyesight read the small print on restaurant bills, and calculate the tip.
“I just cannot read receipts in most restaurants myself,” said Inukai, 72, who calls her device “Tip ‘n Split.” She found a manufacturer for the product years ago but ran into glitches and the process soon stalled.
“I was a little bit discouraged and thought about giving up,” she said. “But instead, I went to SCORE.”
Her mentor was Ed Coleman, and with his help, she and her device got exposure on QVC, the television network, the Today show and the View.
He also introduced her to SLC Group Holdings, a New Hampshire-based company that helps entrepreneurs bring their products to market. SLC was working to do exactly that with Tip ‘n Split when the pandemic hit and the process stalled again.
Inukai’s goal is to have her device sold in stores such as CVS and Rite-Aid, and SLC will help her with that, she said, “when the stores ever open.”
She remains optimistic, and more than happy with the help SCORE has provided.
Coleman “was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “He’s so encouraging, with me every step of the way.”
Inukai is now working on a new invention: Developing a course to help people with their memoir.
“I’ve asked (Coleman) to be my mentor for this one, too,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to have somebody helping me.”